World Coins

Leonardo’s horse graces medieval coin in Triton XXIII sale

A late 15th century silver testone from Italy shows the Duke of Ferrara and a horse modeled after a statue by Leonardo Da Vinci.

Images courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group.

Leonardo Da Vinci’s plans to create the largest equestrian statue in the world in the late 1400s hit a few snags — the bronze was diverted to   use for weaponry — and no lasting example of the statue was built until 500 years later.

A model of the statue, however, appears on medieval coinage, including an example offered for sale by Classical Numismatic Group, during its Triton XXIII auction Jan. 14 and 15 at the New York International Numismatic Convention.

The coin is a silver testone, or quatro (so named because a testone is equal to one-fourth of a scudo). This coin was issued circa 1471 to 1505 in Ferrara, by the Ercole I d’Este, the duke of Ferrara, who conveniently appears on the obverse of the coin.

CNG describes the reverse motif as: “Classical horseman riding right, with flowing cloak and extended right hand.

Borrowed imagery

The imagery is borrowed from the statue Da Vinci hoped to build, on patronage from Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, for the Sforza family castle.

Some 70 tons of bronze was acquired for use in the statue, which was to stand 8 meters (about 26 feet) in height.

Da Vinci created a 24-foot-tall clay model, presenting it for Ludovico’s daughter’s wedding in 1493 to much acclaim.

Hostilities with the French, however, redirected the bronze intended for building the statue to instead be used for weapons for the Battle of Fornovo, the first of many battles in the Italian Wars.

Even the model was damaged — French archers used it for target practice — and the statue became a footnote to history.

A statue based on Da Vinci’s designs would rise at the Sforza Castle in 1999, thanks mostly to the efforts of American Charles Dent.

The coin depicting Da Vinci’s model is offered from the Richard A. Jourdan Collection of Medieval European Coins.

The coin measures 28 millimeters in diameter and weighs 8.91 grams, just ever so slightly larger and heavier than an American Presidential dollar. 

Graded Extremely Fine by the CNG, the coin has an estimate of $7,500.

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